May 16, 2016

Best Birthday Cakes of My 20s+30 Reflections at 30

The have nots of my 20s haunted my ascent to 30. I have not married, or even come close. I have not had children. I have not bought a home. I have not owned a dog. The approaching-30, not-quite-where-you-thought-you’d-be-in-life shame is real, and it’s cruel. It’s also full of falsehood. 

In my final weeks of my 20s, though, I focused my thoughts elsewhere—on the joys and growth that HAVE marked this formative decade. They are abundant and rich. Today, on year 30, day 1, that’s where I am living, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Sour Cream Marble Cake for Susan
1. I baked many birthday cakes, hence the visuals for this post (scroll down past my verbal explosion for more from my collection).

2. I opened my home. I hosted groups of 20 plus girls and groups of 10-15 coeds for lake weekends. I co-hosted potlucks and New Year’s parties, backyard movies and neighbor gatherings, intimate dinner parties and houses full of people for going away parties.

3. I was submerged in an icy cold creek on an Easter Sunday to signify my new life, and a few years later on an Easter Sunday proclaimed that life to an entire church body.

4. I moved to a creaky old apartment in college town, Missouri, with an oven that had to be lit with a lighter, where I learned my craft of choice from those who know it well.

5. I slowly started my life over in the city where I grew up with my parents as roommates, and ultimately found layer after layer of magic new and old in the Magic City.

6. I pursued what I thought was my dream job only for the bridge to it to crumble and make way for the dream job I never knew I wanted.

7. A house of three then-strangers became home. Before long, I’d lived with 12 ladies and found treasures of friendship and companionship along the way.

8. I walked through engagement and marriage with friend after friend after roommate after friend. I loved it. I was exhausted by it.

9. I worshipped with believers in Creole and Spanish, in Haiti and Guatemala.

10. I developed a voice in writing, had the privilege of telling people’s stories and nerded out over grammar like it was my job.

11. I wrote love letters to my mom and to my closest friends, because who said love letters were just for romance?

12. I went on blind dates with mutual friends and with complete strangers from the internet, and each time they became slightly less terrifying.

13. Speaking of, I became a bolder version of myself.

14. I wasn’t ready to stop learning. I took lay theology classes and classes on calligraphy and cake decorating. I attended lectures on occasion, read things and added 206 books to my “read” list on GoodReads.

15. I totaled a car, said things I immediately wanted to take back and saw a darker side of Madoline the Good Girl. Guess what? She’s a sinner like everyone else.

16. I felt the weight of sin and darkness more heavily, in myself, in the lives of those I love, and in people I struggled to love. It hurt. And it made the power of salvation all the sweeter.  

17. I went on friend dates, dates with my parents, dates with my brother. I went to local restaurants, on picnics, to plays and concerts. I relished one-on-one and small group conversation. See also: introversion.

18. I cried big fat ugly cries on occasion and learned that it’s okay to let myself do that, to grieve the end of something meaningful and to grieve the hurt I felt from others.

19. I reached new depths of feeling known and loved by friends who feel like family and sought to be that kind of friend to them.

20. I documented my days, my years, my highlights, my lowlights. I journaled, about spiritual things and not-so-spiritual things. I stepped up my photography quality and printed photos for an ongoing old fashioned album.

21. I composed 351 blog posts about what I cooked, but most days I cooked with zero care for presentation and photos. More than any kitchen activity, I baked cookies and cakes, chocolate and chocolate, cookies and cakes, and chocolate and chocolate. Perhaps most significantly, I baked this cake and these cookie bars about 37 times each (that’s a completely random guess of a number).

22. I embraced my freedom. I took last minute road trips to see newborn babies and spent days and hours and days of quality time with friends. I slept in. I daydreamed for hours and hours on end. I came home when I wanted to. I watched what I wanted to. I did what I wanted to. I ate what I wanted to.

23. I made friends with ladies newer to the adulting thing than I was. Along the way, I learned age means less than maturity.

24. I learned to listen and ask good questions—to be a good journalist, a good friend and a good stranger to talk to. And to value people whose conversations are marked by these things.

25. Intentionality became my favorite mantra.

26. I said yes to responsibility, to a junior board, to a junior board presidency, to running alumni events, to hosting, to planning.

27. I got to see and soak in the beauty of giant rocks in Arizona, rivers and mountains in Jackson Hole and Montana, gardens and pastries in England, architecture in Spain, coastlines in the Dominican Republic and Maine, culture and coasts in Seattle and Victoria, and the scenic contours of my own backyard.

28. I learned to embrace my introversion. I’m now cool with not being the bubbly person that everyone immediately is enthralled with two seconds after meeting OR the one who likes large social events, and I have confidence in the strengths of the personality I was given (ISFJ all the way!).

29. I discovered that church could become the people who feel like home and remind you of the truth you want to believe.

30. I learned to laugh at the future, to hold my dreams with an open hand and to love the gifts of the present that I could never have dreamed up on my own.

Cheers to the advent of my 30s, and to all the cakes to come!

Smitten Kitchen's Tiramisu Cake for Laura
Chocolate-Buttercream Cupcakes for Katie
Chocolate-Kahlua Buttercream Cupcakes for Madison
Strawberry Cake (from somewhere on the Internet) for Emily
Chocolate-Buttercream Cake with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting on Top for Sarah Margaret
Sugarless Jello Mold for Melissa
Chocolate Waffle Bar by Moi for My 26th Birthday
Blueberry-Lemon Layer Cake for Amy (with an A!)
Birthday Fruit Tart for Irene
Chocolate Sheet Cake for Marian (from the way back archives!)
Chocolate Cake Pops for Mom's 50th
Insta-Cookie Cake for Many Coworkers' Birthdays (but the photo was from Patrick's graduation)

April 26, 2016

Bavarian Cream Cake

One magical day, homemade layers of chocolate cake and creamy something or other appeared in my fridge, courtesy of my roommate's church dinner. Maybe it was because I had suffered through consuming overly sweet icing from a local bakery that most of the world just loves (and I really don't understandit's not made with butter, people), but lightly sweet cream opened a new world of cake combos reminiscent of trifle for me.

Within a week, I had tracked down the recipe, which turned out to be a combination of whipping cream, cream cheese and surprise ingredient brown sugar, and made it for myself with my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The recipe calls for refrigerating it 8 hours, but the longer you leave it in the fridge, the more wonderfully the cake melds with the cream, bettering with age. 

I also have this recipe to thank for inspiration to ice cake with Nutella cream. Maybe that will make it to the blog next, since all I seem to blog about is variations on cake these days.

March 23, 2016

Oatmeal Cookie-Topped Brownies

On an Alabama "snow day," meaning it might possibly snow and so everyone goes home, I'm attempting to do my job from my couch in PJ pants late on a Friday afternoon, and all I can think about is baking warm and cozy chocolate something. I'm thinking brownies, I'm thinking cookies, I'm thinking... brownie cookies.

Soon I move a room over to delve into my ridiculous stash of chocolate chips and butter, whip these guys up and tote them down the street ready-to-bake for a super girly night with the March girls. (Side note: If you are female and haven't read or watched Little Women, it will make you feel almost as warm and cozy as this oatmeal cookie-brownie combo.)

Verdict: The oatmeal dough makes the rich brownie not as overwhelming and adds a bit of buttery nuttiness to the extremity of chocolate. They will be made again.

January 22, 2016

Apple-Cranberry Baked Oatmeal

Every time I go, I wonder why it's taken me so long to come back. And sometimes that's just five days. The serenity of the lake puts my soul at ease and creates spaces for quality time like none other.

So far, baked oatmeal has a similar track record.

My newest version is packed with cold-weather season flavors and textures. Apples and cranberries add sweet-tartness, pecans a nutty crunch and orange zest a refreshing citrusy flair throughout. So wondrous was the influence of the zest that I was compelled to invest in the house's very own zester. (Yes, quality kitchen tools really are quite exciting.)
Because my mother is almost as fastidious about Tuesday-Thursday nail nights as I am about baking from scratch.
 Bonus: Because winter masqueraded as spring for so long, we enjoyed our oats on the deck that boasts my favorite view.
 The next time I was lake-bound, I brought my zester and vowed to come back sooner.

More Baked Oatmeal: The Strawberry Kind
Even More Grainy Breakfast Delight: Whole Grain Strawberry Breakfast Cake

November 22, 2015

Chocolate Cake Parfaits (All from Scratch, Of Course)

It started with a tragically cracked cake layer. But it's okay. I fixed it by burying it in pieces under homemade chocolate pudding. And homemade pudding elevates the status of anything by 409 percent, make that 1,409 percent when it's also layered with Kahlua whipped cream.

And who needs a three layer cake when you can have a two layer one and then parfaits for your next party that week? Right? Right.

It turned out to be such a pretty little thing in a tea cup, thanks to the genius of my roommate. She not only shares her growing teacup collection but also had the idea for the cracked cake redemption. And she assembled these creamy party pleasers with me late at night, and that's just one part of her dinner party partner skill set.

Oh, and I must give credit to my other roommate for use of her glasses when we ran out of teacups. Yes, they have cats on them. No, I am not a fan of cats. Yes, I did it any way because they were like large Seasons 52 dessert glasses. Finally, my third (yes, third) roommate gets credit for affirming the supremacy of the taste and presentation of both forms of parfait.

Note: Layering creamy things in tall, skinny glasses is more challenging than short, squatty tea cups.

Homemade Chocolate Cake+Homemade Chocolate Pudding+Kahlua Whipped Cream even wowed my favorite sugar cookie-over-chocolate chip cookie-choosing friend (what kind of taste is that?).  She even took a second one home. It also puts to shame all those brownie trifles I made with instant pudding and Cool Whip before I became such a homemade snob.

Oh, and you could sub in brownies or cookie crumbs for the cake on this recipe. I first made them with Chocolate Chip Cookie pieces because that's what I had leftover.